On one level – the macro level – poverty would appear to be government’s problem to solve. Of course non-governmental organizations have a significant role to play in the alleviation of poverty, but generally speaking we look to government to solve this issue.
This is of course correct. Government needs to devise and implement strategies that will address widespread poverty in South Africa.
But on another level – the practical, micro level – poverty is a citizen issue. How can it not be when it is literally all around us? For the poor amongst us their lived reality is that life might be sustained by government – just – in the form of a grant, but it can only improve through our actions.
I hear a disillusioned groan. Is placing yet another coin into the outstretched hand of the pauper materially improving her quality of life? Is it altering the overall landscape of poverty? Is going through our wardrobe and donating our used clothes to the poor making any difference – or is it, perhaps, just assuaging our guilt – or worse, providing us with a convenient outlet for our old junk?
I would suggest that – whilst we need to continue to give in this way – we also need to become more creative in how we deal with poverty. We need to ask deeper questions of ourselves and those questions could yield transformative solutions.
Fundamentally the question needs to move beyond; “what do I have in my hands to give?” to the slightly more probing question of; “what do I have in my head and my heart to give?” This takes us beyond placing Band-Aids over suppurating wounds into the realm of achievable, long-term solutions. Let me give you a couple of examples to stir your soul:
Gareth Simpson – LeadSA’s Kwa-Zulu Natal youth hero of the year – was just 13 years old when he came up with an idea that would materially improve the lives of poor children. He was participating in a schools rugby tournament and was shocked by the fact that many of the boys had no rugby boots or – in some cases – jerseys or even rugby balls. His words are telling: “I knew I had to do something but wasn’t sure how to go about it.”
As an aside – how often have you witnessed a need, been moved to do something about it, but talked yourself out of it because you didn’t know where to begin? Gareth gives us a clue as to what to do. He spoke to his parents!
When you get an idea or an impulse to act that is bigger than you are – take it to people you trust; your parents, your spouse, your boss, your pastor – and discuss it with them. I have heard of so many case studies where those people have become partners in making the idea a reality. This was certainly the case for Gareth.
He began to collect second hand rugby boots from the kids at his school. He cleaned them, fixed them up and gave them to boys who needed them. His campaign – Rugby Recycled – was born and to date he has been responsible for providing more than 300 pairs of boots as well as jerseys, shorts and kit bags to schools in KwaMashu and Inanda. Gareth is not solving the macro issue of poverty but he is using what is in his head and his heart to improve the lives of poor kids. What an inspiration.
My second example is of a hero who probably won’t win any awards for what he is doing – but who should. Dr. Kesan Moodley. Dr. Moodley is a top Durban-based dentist. A couple of months back I approached him and asked if he would be willing to treat a youngster I mentor; a poor kid who in 20 years has never had the experience of visiting a dentist and was consequently in much pain. Dr. Moodley agreed without hesitation and over numerous sessions, sorted out the young man’s teeth free of charge.
This would have been a significant contribution in itself but Dr. Moodley went beyond that. We spoke of Bright Stars – the child and youth mentorship programme that The Peace Agency runs. Dr. Moodley offered to treat the kids on the programme who most urgently need dentistry. He sees a few each month – fitting them around his busy schedule, and the lives – not to mention smiles – of these children are being changed forever. Like Gareth, Dr. Moodley is using his passions and his talents to materially improve the quality of life of our nations most needy.
It is easy to become frustrated even exhausted by the grinding poverty that surrounds us. But we need look no further than what gets us out of bed in the morning – and offer that.
Chances are it is just what’s needed.
Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency.
This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered